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 CAB May Get ‘Muzzle Award’ for ‘Teddy Bear’ Expulsions

March 14, 2007 - By this time next month, the Charles A. Beard Memorial School Board will know whether it or not has been selected to join a select group that includes, among others, President George W. Bush, the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. Department of Defense, CBS Television, former New York Mayor and current Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani, former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, the Library of Congress and NASCAR.

CAB recently learned its school board has been nominated for one of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression's 2007 Jefferson Muzzle Awards. According to the center's website, the Jefferson Muzzle Awards, now in their 16th year, celebrate "the birth and ideals of its namesake by calling attention to those who in the past year forgot or disregarded Mr. Jefferson's admonition that freedom of speech 'cannot be limited without being lost.'"

Josh Wheeler, associate director of the TJC, based in Charlottesville, Va., told The Banner that CAB was nominated for a Muzzle Award for its decision to expel four Knightstown High School sophomores last fall over a horror film parody made on their own time away from school. He said he thought this case exemplified important issues involving the rights of students and school interference with the exercise of those rights.

"There is an important underlying issue, and that's this. … More and more schools feel that they have the ability to sanction students for off-campus, non-school-related speech," said Wheeler. "This, we think is very representative of that."

The four students CAB expelled last fall over the film are all back in school now. Alleging their constitutional rights of free speech were violated, three of the students sued CAB and a settlement was reached last month, although details of the agreement have yet to be released. Attorneys for the students and the school corporation have been given until March 30 to finalize the settlement and file it with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana in Indianapolis.

According to Wheeler, the TJC received a little more than 200 nominations for its 2007 Jefferson Muzzle Awards. At this point in the selection process, he said the nominations have been winnowed down to about 35, with CAB being one of the nominees still in the running.

In a letter dated March 1, Robert O'Neil, founding director of the TJC, notified CAB Superintendent David McGuire of the school board's nomination for a 2007 Jefferson Muzzle Award. O'Neil invited CAB to respond by March 27 and provide any information that might have bearing on the final selection process.

"We feel it appropriate to offer such an opportunity for response well ahead of the planned release date, which is April 10, 2007," O'Neil wrote. "Please know your response will be given full consideration. We are very aware that the sources we cite may not fully reflect all aspects of the reported incident."

Despite O'Neil's invitation, it appears unlikely that CAB will offer a response to its nomination. In a memo dated March 9, McGuire told CAB School Board members about the Muzzle Award nomination. "They invited our response," he wrote. "I did not respond."

In 2006, the TJC awarded 13 Jefferson Muzzle Awards, with President Bush, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Florida Supreme Court and high school administrations in Tennessee, Florida and California included among the honorees. Should CAB be honored with a 2007 Jefferson Muzzle Award, it would become only the third Hoosier honoree since the awards' inception in 1992; in 2002 and 2003, Jefferson Muzzle Awards were given, respectively, to the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office and the administration of Whiting High School.

(For more information about the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression and their annual Jefferson Muzzle Awards, visit the center's website at www.tjcenter.org. - Ed.)

 

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